Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Congo Square (New Orleans, La.) -- History, Africans -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Social life and customs, Slaves -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Social conditions, Folk music -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History, Folk dancing -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History, Slavery -- United States -- History




The roots of the modem rhythms and dances we hear today in popular American musical styles like hip-hip, rock and roll, and jazz can be traced back to the rhythms of African and Afro-Caribbean slaves in colonial New Orleans' Congo Square. Congo Square was the only site in the colonial slave South where slaves were legally permitted to regularly gather and most importantly drum. The slaves that gathered in Congo Square maintained a significant sense of agency in their retention of their musical culture. This thesis explores the environmental, colonial, and cultural factors that contributed to the retention of African slave musical culture in Congo Square. Specifically focusing on the common origins of slaves in the colonial period, with the large Senegambian population in the early French period, and the concentration of slaves from the Congo/Angola region in the Spanish and early American periods. The openness of New Orleans' slave culture, that came about through the necessity for co-dependence in the early colonial period, and the liberties granted to slaves by their masters and French and Spanish slave codes. This paper also examines the important connection between colonial New Orleans and the slave Caribbean, which provided Congo Square with a steady reinforcement of African and Afro-Caribbean musical culture practices and influences throughout the colonial and early American periods. Understanding the retention of African culture in the Sunday Congo Square gatherings is also important in giving agency to African culture, in spite the long held historical notion that ties to African culture were cut with the middle passage. This paper highlights the persistence of African culture in the New World, and in colonial New Orleans' Congo Square, where African slaves transformed their unique freedom into the power to disseminate and continue their cultural tradition and practices, especially their music.


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